Shout was created out of a partnership between Microsoft Partners in Learning, TakingITGlobal and the Smithsonian Institution, based in Washington.
The first phase of the Shout project is a tree-banding initiative. Students from both schools were given a tree-banding kit and tasked to use the tools in the kit to regularly measure the growth of the trees as part of a larger Smithsonian ecology project to monitor the effects of climate change.
St Cyprians and Hout Bay are two of 500 schools around the world that will receive these tree measuring kits. The high school students will then upload their findings onto the Shout Web site, and will be able to collaborate with other students and scientists from around the world.
Josh Falk, coordinator from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, says a project of this scope has never been done before.
“This creates a massive database to monitor how trees respond to the local climate at each of the participating schools from around the world. It encourages student learning and it's a door to get kids interested in science and maths,” notes Falk.
“There will also be monthly online broadcasts where the kids will be able to interact with the scientists. In order to keep it sustainable, we will be having themes that focus on other issues.”
The pilot project of Shout was rolled out earlier this year, in which 35 schools situated in Sri Lanka, Australia, Philippines and Singapore were involved in DeforestAction, an initiative to create awareness and generate $10 million funding to build a sanctuary for orang-utans, in Borneo, Indonesia.
Claudine Brown, assistant secretary for education and access for the 160-year-old Smithsonian Institution, said at the tree-banding unveiling: “Shout allows us to have a global reach. We like the fact that the students will be able to do hands-on work that allows them to interactively learn and participate in citizen science and collect data that we can use.”
However, one of the major concerns is the fact that under privileged schools, such as Hout Bay High School, would not be able to participate as fully as a private school, where infrastructure such as broadband Internet is lacking.
Michael Furdyk, director of technology and co-founder of TakingITGlobal, acknowledged it was a problem and explained that the organisation is looking at ways where content can be viewed and uploaded via a mobile phone.
“It's important to make sure that there's a wide diversity of schools that can participate in the initiative. We are looking at a variety of ways to accommodate schools that struggle with bandwidth. Perhaps certain schools will not be able to do video conferencing, but then they can at least submit a blog to the Web site.”
Furdyk pointed out that the project is still in its infancy, but Microsoft and TakingITGlobal are looking at partnerships with government and partners in the private sector to drive it forward.